(The following article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of iFIBER ONE News, iFIBER Communications, or it’s staff)
Many of us are familiar with how our school districts are funded. Construction costs, maintenance updates, teacher salaries, and more are funded by local taxpayers. With local property taxes, levies, and bonds, superintendents and school district administrators work to ensure our students receive the high-quality education they deserve. Over the past several years, many of our school districts have expanded to accommodate growing numbers of students. But what happens when a school district is on or surrounded by federal land?
To fulfill our commitment to future generations of Americans, the federal government established the Impact Aid program. Impact Aid provides federal dollars to school districts who serve “federally-connected children,” or communities on land that is exempt from local property tax, such as U.S. military installments, tribal reservations, low-rent housing properties, and other federally-connected lands.
From tribal reservations and Bureau of Reclamation lands to the Hanford Site, the federal government has a significant footprint in Central Washington. Because of this, almost every county in the 4th Congressional District contains areas with a diminished local tax base that our school districts rely on to provide for our students.
Whether they know it or not, hundreds of families in our region have benefited from this federal program, from Mt. Adams School District in Yakima County to Nespelem School District in Okanogan. In 2018, Central Washington’s school districts received more than $6 million in Impact Aid payments. These reimbursements have allowed school districts to complete construction at new schools, expand classroom sizes, and ensure safe facilities for our students and families.
Growing up near the Yakama Nation reservation, I have long understood how federally-impacted lands affect our local school districts, and since being elected to Congress, I have met with superintendents up and down Central Washington who have strongly advocated for continued Impact Aid reimbursements and shared stories of how these payments have allowed they to continue teaching our younger generations.
As Co-Chair of the House Impact Aid Caucus, I understand how important this federal program is for local students and families in Central Washington. As a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have worked to ensure adequate funding of this program so our children – and children throughout rural and federally-impacted lands across the country – are not left behind.
On September 30, the United States celebrates 70 years of the Impact Aid program providing these critical reimbursements for our local school districts. I partnered with Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) to introduce a bipartisan resolution in the House celebrating the program’s anniversary and the lasting effects it has had on our rural students.
As we navigate a return to in-classroom learning for students of all ages, it is especially important that Congress renews our commitment to the Impact Aid program. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure our students in all school districts receive the educational opportunities they deserve.